More often than not, a dance is the work of a sole choreographer, who then teaches dancers to perform the moves he or she has created.
That's not how choreographer Rosy Simas works. For "Weave," which her company will present this Saturday at the Ordway in St. Paul, she brought together a diverse group of dancers who are also choreographers in their own right.
"So what I do is I set up movement, experiences that become experiments that become scores," she explained. "And they really range from how much freedom of choice there are in them to how highly structured they are, and we develop work within that. So probably what you end up seeing on stage, which is somewhere around 90 minutes, is probably a quarter of what we've made."
Simas might ask the dancers to create movement that captures the feeling of a breeze blowing gently on their face. Each person's response is different, but each is true to the idea.
The result is a performance that is unified in tone, but in which individual dancers are able to use their own physical language. One dancer might move with large sweeping gestures reminiscent of tai chi, while another turns a shoulder or a wrist, only to have the movement ripple and cascade throughout her body. As a whole, the work is meditative, trancelike and reflective.
Performer Valerie Oliveiro described the experience as "a situation where you walk in with whatever your expectations are for watching a performance, and that really quickly slides away as you're very gently placed in a space where you are not in your usual rhythm, or your usual time or your usual situation, but you're still comfortable."
"Weave" is inspired by the interdependent nature of our world. Simas points to the international team that created it: They include people of color, queer and indigenous.
"We live in a really difficult time right now and the barriers that are placed for this group of people to be in the same room — it's very hard for people right now — and that is one of the most eye-opening pieces of this," Simas said. "There is just so much hardship for people right now, it makes doing the simplest things really challenging, and then on top of that you're trying to get at something really personal."
Simas describes herself as a Native feminist choreographer. She says, as a result, people often make assumptions about her work — that it will feature all Native American dancers, for example, or include obvious traditional imagery. "Weave" has neither.
"It is obviously Native-made work, because I am Seneca and I am Native, but it is very much about the people who are in it," she said. "And that is a very international group of people who have different stories and different backgrounds and different lives."
While many artists are involved in creating "Weave," Oliveiro says Simas is unquestionably the leader of the group.
"The performance is definitely a making of hers," she said. "It's her perspective. I'm making lots of options and I want to be able to use those options in conversation with her aesthetic and her perspective."
It could be said that Simas is the weaver sitting at the loom, while the dancers provide her with the threads.
After the performance Saturday night at the Ordway, "Weave" will travel to Alabama, Pennsylvania, Hawaii and Washington, D.C.